General Mills has invested in an ag-tech business that promises to help bees and farmers through the use of artificial intelligence and in-hive sensors.
BeeHero, based in California and Israel, recently closed a $42 million funding round that drew nearly a dozen investors, including General Mills’ venture capital arm, 301 Inc.
“To innovate in food, we need to innovate in pollination,” Johnny Tran, managing director of 301 Inc., said in an email.
Bees and other pollinators are necessary to produce a majority of the world’s crops grown for human consumption. They face numerous threats that in turn put the global food supply at risk.
“This essential part of the food ecosystem is often overlooked, even as pressure on our food supply increases,” Tran said.
BeeHero has helped pollinate 100,000 acres of crops so far with its “precision pollination” service that offers farmers and beekeepers dozens of metrics to track colony health and pollination efficacy. It’s a concept akin to precision agriculture — a modern approach to row crop farming that relies on technology and metrics to maximize yields.
“We have seen firsthand the challenges our growers face from insufficient and inadequate pollination,” CEO Omer Davidi said in a statement. “To offset this, more and more farmers are adopting new technologies to meet the nutritional needs of our growing population.”
As wild pollinator populations shrink due to habitat loss and climate change, beekeepers are increasingly called on to deploy their bees in fields to ensure pollination. About 1.7 million acres were pollinated this way in 2017, according to the most recent data available.
“Beekeepers now receive about as much of their income from providing pollination services as from producing honey,” according to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report. In the U.S., pollination services generate more than $250 million annually, much of it spent by California almond growers for bees trucked in from around the country, the USDA says.
For investors like 301 Inc., BeeHero’s appeal is its ability to make pollination services more efficient and better connect farmers, beekeepers and colonies, Tran said.
301 Inc. has made 12 different investments over the past 12 months. The latest investment marks a continued shift away from solely investing in food companies.
“We are increasingly exploring companies that strengthen the resiliency of our food supply, as well as connected commerce and digital tech companies,” Tran said. “301 Inc. has been more active this year than in the past five years combined.”
General Mills has said sustainable agriculture is essential to its ability to remain in business. The BeeHero investment is not the first time the Golden Valley-based food company has advocated for bees, however.
In 2017 the bee mascot for Honey Nut Cheerios, the nation’s top-selling cereal, was briefly replaced with an outline and an appeal to #BringBackTheBees through a seed packet giveaway.
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